Article by Frederik Van Deurs, Lasse Alfastsen and Stefan M. Kristensen
The blessing of alternative thinking
If companies want to escape from cutthroat competition, they need to move away from established industry assumptions and models. This movement is usually coined as “strategic innovation”. It refers to companies that radically change the rules of the game in an industry by competing in a fundamentally different way. This approach has proven itself especially effective when it comes to building a sustainable company.
Dell, Tesla and Other Innovators of the World
There is no shortage of examples: Dell with its first oceanbound plastics supply chain, Anuvia Plant Nutrients patented biotechnology which can do in minutes what nature does in years, Tesla for letting electric car-drivers zip cross-country with ease, and so on.
The common thread running through all these success stories is that the companies in question did not innovate in the traditional sense by investing in R&D and then launching next-generation products, but instead challenged conventional thinking within their respective sector.
The Dutch hunters and the Danish Pigs
I would like to introduce the story of the Dutch hunters and the Danish pigs. Depending on the interpretation, this might seem like a peculiar arrangement.
But it actually has some merit. Hear me out.
In Denmark, we are the ”proud” owners of the world record in pigs. During the last 40 years, the Danish pig industry has undergone extensive development – from small family-run farms to large professional farms.
This centralization has resulted in a total production of more than 30 million Danish pigs yearly (none of them are Danes). An impressive number which makes Denmark the clear cut world record holder in the category of pigs per capita.
The Environmental Cost
This might be beneficial for the Danish export but unfortunately it comes with an immense environmental cost. It is safe to say that feeding more than 30 millions pigs per year is highly resource-intensive.
The sheer amount of space for the production of food for our beloved pigs is quite substantial.
According to The Danish society for Nature Conversation, 60 % of Danish land masses are currently used for agricultural purposes. 80 % of these are being used to produce animal feed.
The majority of this production is corn and maze for our pigs and cows. It is estimated that for each hectare it is possible to produce 4.000 kg of corn. A slaughter ready pig weighs around 85 kg (110 kg live weight). By these numbers it is possible to produce feed for 47 pigs per year on 1 hectare of land. That is quite a lot of space for such a small amount of pigs.
Even though we are producing crops at a record pace we are still importing soy at an increasing rate from South America. This does not quite add up. But what if we could find an alternative food source that does not force us to use most of our land area for production of animal feed?
Well, there is already a valid alternative – insects. Insects are a high quality, efficient and sustainable alternative protein source. They can sustainably be reared on organic side streams and they have a favorable feed conversion efficiency.
By substituting part of the pig diet with insects it will allow us to free up some of the arable land we are currently using for the production of corn and maze. However, the pigs have a hard time converting the exoskeletons of the insects, so we can, conservatively, estimate 10% feed replenishment coming from insects.
Forrest Raising “Raises the Bar”
This alternative co-exists well with the Danish government’s ambition to support private forest raising. On the 25th of November 2019, they published an agreement which allocates 15.2 million DKK towards extra applications for private forests. Well, if we do not need the space for the production of animal feed we might as well bring back the Danish nature.
Okay, so this all good, but what about the Dutch hunters?
In the Netherlands there are 27,000 hunting and licence holders who add an annual social value of 600 million euros to the national economy. I assume we would not mind getting our sticky Danish fingers in that nine-figure cookie jar. Or even better, create our own proverbial cookie jar.
The additional forest we are able to plant will increase natural biodiversity. This will translate into more wildlife which needs to be managed. I wonder who we could invite to help us with this endeavour.
That’s right, the Dutch hunters. Cookie jar assembled.
The Morale of the Story
What is the morale of the story, you might ask? And what does Tesla, insects, forest raising, Dutch hunters and Danish pigs have to do with each other?
Well, sometimes it takes a mixture of innovative ideas which have no natural connection to overcome challenges. In an environment such as the pig industry that emphasizes productivity, profit, and efficiency it might be time to think in terms of “strategic innovation”. If we are willing to do things differently this could be the future of Danish agriculture and the pig industry. Together we can change the status quo, and like the dutch hunters, it is possible to hit bullseye, if we choose to.
- Danish Agriculture and Food Council, “Statistics pigmeat”, (2018)
- Veldkamp and Bosch, “Insects – a protein rich feed ingredient in pig and poultry diets”, (2015)